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Top of the Reef at Wakatobi Dive Resort

At Wakatobi Dive Resort, the shallows aren't just for off-gassing or a safety stop. Divers on these sites can (and will want to) stretch bottom times well past an hour.

Steep walls and dramatic seamounts make for exciting dives, and there are plenty of sites at Wakatobi Dive Resort that offer these profiles. But many of these same sites offer something that few other places can. When reefs rise sharply from deep water to within a few feet of the surface, divers can stretch bottom times beyond the hour mark and discover the colorful world of the shallows.

What lies beneath

Right from arrival, guests get a hint of what awaits beneath the water’s surface as the transfer boat pulls up to the resort jetty. Below, the water changes suddenly from deep blue to sparkling aquamarine, offering a bird’s-eye view of the corals and seagrass beds peeking through the sunlight. This is the outer edge of the House Reef, which lies around 250 feet from shore (80 m) from shore. Both divers and snorkelers can jump in any time day or night.

Most visitors make their first dive at the resort on the House Reef, which offers a good example of what’s to come. After making a short swim or hopping in at the end of the jetty, divers begin on the edge of a steep slope that rises abruptly from deep water to snorkeling depths. And just across the channel, the dive sites of Sawa Island offer even more dramatic profiles, with vertical walls that top out within an arm’s reach of the surface.

Sawa Island

Magnifica is aptly named and is one of the favorite sites around Sawa. Descending from a small plateau perched on a high vertical wall, divers can free fall into the depths, where black coral, colorful sea fans and huge sponges thrive. A leisurely ascent back up the wall might feature schools of jacks, barracuda and snappers and a hunt for macro life in the many nooks and crannies of the reef.

In many places, this type of wall dive would end with a safety stop, hanging on a down line or swimming toward shore. But at Wakatobi, the ascent leads to the bright world of the upper reef, where various hard and soft corals spread into large formations to catch the sunlight. Thanks to modern dive computers, profiles such as this allow divers to routinely enjoy bottom times of 70 minutes or more, and spend up to four or more hours in the water each day.

Coral in the shallows

Some of the reef-building corals most associated with the shallows are in the Acropora family. To thrive, these corals require water that is free of sediment and pollution. They also need bright light and oxygenation from water motion. Most Acropora species, such as elkhorn and staghorn coral, form a tangle of slender branches. Others grow to formations that resemble a tabletop, some bigger than a dining room table. Flitting around these majestic corals are countless varieties of reef fish such as wrasse, damselfish and anthias, many of which live as large colonies. Closer looks reveal macro sightings such as “odd-couple” pairings of blind shrimp with their ever-watchful guardian gobies. Other prize sightings include ghost pipefish, blue-spotted stingrays, octopus, cuttlefish and more.

The coral structures of these shallow reefs are sheltered from the ravages of typhoons and storm surge because Wakatobi sits in an area that rarely sees bad weather or rough seas. This means that the reefs surrounding the resort can develop without damage. It also means that divers and snorkelers can enjoy relaxing boat rides and easy entries and exits to dive boats.

Situated in the heart of the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystem, Wakatobi is home to thousands of varieties of fish and even more invertebrates. Marine life thrives under the protection of the resort-sponsored no-take zone. This initiative is especially important to the shallow reefs because they are particularly vulnerable to impacts such as destructive fishing practices.

Ready to spend some quality time in the shallow waters of Wakatobi? Inquire at or email [email protected].

By guest author Walt Stearns

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